Athletic Board moves to increase power

By Jeff Kirik

If the NIU Athletic Board has its way, the athletic director will no longer be able to fire a head coach without first getting approval from the board.

The athletic board passed a resolution at Wednesday’s meeting, which, if enacted by the University Council, would make the firings of all NIU head coaches subject to approval by the board. The move was triggered by NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell’s decision on March 8 to fire men’s basketball coach Jim Rosborough. That firing broke a four-year verbal commitment an NIU search committee had made with Rosborough when he was hired in 1986.

As an advisory body, the athletic board has never had responsibility in the evaluation of personnel. However, that could change if the UC elects to follow the board’s recommendation and alter the group’s bylaws.

Gary Glenn, budget committee chairman and one of three members of the board’s executive committee that drew up the resolution, said, “It’s (the board’s) judgment that we need to have a review power concerning the firing of head coaches.” That review power would help the university maintain the “very best in ethical conduct and the finest traditions of integrity, sportsmanship and fair play, which is required by our constititutional bylaws,” Glenn said.

The resolution—which passed in a 9-5 vote, with one abstention—was one of seven operational resolutions formulated by the executive committee (which is composed of Glenn, Earl Seaver and Joe Koch). The other six resolutions were tabled until the board’s next meeting on April 12.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first for newly appointed interim board Chairman James Mellard. Mellard replaced Curt Norton, who resigned in protest of Rosborough’s firing after a three-year term as the board’s chairman.

About one hour into the meeting the board began its discussion on the operational resolutions. At Mellard’s suggestion, the board then voted to go into closed session since personnel matters were to be discussed.

“Our deliberations concerned the recent termination of Jim Rosborough’s contract as head men’s basketball coach,” said Mellard in reference to the board’s 45-minute closed session. He added that the session was called so “O’Dell would have an opportunity to talk with (the board) about the basis for the decision (to fire Rosborough).”

After the closed session, Glenn opened discussion about the resolution, which reads as follows: “The firing of any head coach must be approved by a majority of the voting members of the Athletic Board present and voting. The Board shall insure that the firing was not made in violation of any understandings, commitments, or agreements made at the time he or she was hired or subsequently. Such understandings, commitments, or agreements shall be regarded as ethically binding on the institution and shall not be abrogated by the University except for cause.”

During the discussion of the resolution, Mellard questioned whether the board should vote on the matter after only one meeting.

Ray Dembinski, one of the board members who voted against the resolution, agreed with Mellard and made a motion to table all the resolutions for further study. However, the motion was voted down.

Board member Lou Jean Moyer said, “I think the athletic board should not be involved in personnel issues. I think that that is the job of the athletic director.”

Glenn, however, pointed out that other institutions—such as Wisconsin, Missouri and Kentucky—have successfully used their athletic boards to evaluate personnel.

A motion to amend the writing of the resolution was then made by board member Robert Chappel. Chappel said he believed the board should be given the right to review firings only in instances where a commitment had been made to the head coach. His motion to have that condition placed before the resolution was also voted down.

Huda Scheidelman, a board member representing the Student Association, voted in favor of the resolution. She said, “As far as this resolution goes, it is our business to be involved in this personnel matter now because a personnel matter has been transformed into an integrity matter, into an institutional matter which questions our whole philosophies.”

In rebuttal to Scheidelman’s statement, board member Dick Boardman said the group might be overstepping its bounds. He said if the proposal were enacted, there would be controversy every time someone was fired.

As the discussion continued O’Dell sat quietly and watched. He spoke only once and that was in reference to the function of the athletic board at Minnesota, where he worked before coming to NIU. O’Dell said he was unsure of the Minnesota board’s power in cases of personnel evaluation.

Three hours after the meeting started, the board voted on the resolution. Dembinski, Moyer, Chappel, Boardman and student-athlete representative Beth Schrader voted against the proposal. Joel Swift was the lone member to abstain from the vote.